Every day three to four children in the United States die from child abuse or neglect. In Kentucky over 18,600 children are victims of abuse or neglect yearly. These numbers represent only those cases that have been reported. Some experts estimate that child abuse or neglect occurs more than three times as often as the number of reported cases.
During April, there will be banners displayed at many locations proclaiming April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. In addition, there will be small, blue stick figures of boys and girls placed on the lawns of the Franklin County Health Department, American Founders Bank on the East-West Connector and at the fire station on the corner of Main Street and Versailles Road to draw attention to the number of children abused in Franklin County.
Childhelp USA, one of the oldest non-profit agencies dedicated to child abuse prevention and treatment, offers the following definition of child abuse:
Child abuse consists of any act of commission or omission that endangers or impairs a child's physical or emotional health and development. Child abuse includes any damage done to a child which cannot be reasonably explained and which is often represented by an injury or series of injuries appearing to be non-accidental in nature.
There are four major forms of child abuse: Neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse. Close to half of the victims, or 49 percent, experience neglect, 19 percent experience physical abuse, 10 percent experience sexual abuse and 7 percent experience emotional abuse. Each form of abuse leaves its own personal scar that may remain with the child throughout his or her life.
There may be both short and long term problems associated with child abuse or neglect, which includes brain damage, learning disorders, aggressive behaviors and relationship problems. Victims of child abuse or neglect may be at greater risk for developing problems associated with drug abuse, criminal behavior, teen pregnancy, and sometimes they may become abusers themselves. These problems dont just affect the victim; they also impact the family and society as a whole.
No child or family is immune from abuse or neglect, but there are certain factors that may put some families at greater risk. These factors include economic or personal problems, isolation from family and friends, anger or stress control issues and alcohol or drug abuse.
There are programs that have been shown to be effective in reducing child abuse such as the Health, Access, Nurturing, Development, Services or H.A.N.D.S program at the Franklin County Health Department. H.A.N.D.S. is a voluntary home visitation program open to all first time parents, mother or dad, which offers advice and support during the first critical years of life.
Wednesday has been designated by congress as National Day of Hope. A resolution passed in 2004 asks that:
1) All Americans keep the victims of child abuse and neglect in our thoughts and prayers.
2) All Americans should seek to break the cycle of child abuse and neglect and to give victimized children hope for the future.
3) The faith community, nonprofit organizations, and volunteers across America should recommit themselves and mobilize their resources to assist abused and neglected children.
The Kentucky Council on Child Abuse Parent Hotline is (800) 432-9251. The number for the Adult and Child Abuse Reporting Hotline is (800) 752-6200.
Debbie Howes Fleming is the health education director with the Franklin County Health Department. For more information about column topics or to contact her or the FCHD Community Health Education team, call 564-5559.